Classical models of the spatial structure of population genetics rely on the assumption of migration-drift equilibrium, which is seldom met in natural populations having only recently colonized their current range (e.g., postglacial). Population structure then depicts historical events, and counfounding effects due to recent secondary contact between recently differentiated lineages can further counfound analyses of association between geographic and genetic distances. Mitochondrial polymorphisms have revealed the existence of two closely related lineages of the lake cisco, Coregonus artedi, whose significantly different but overlaping geographical distributions provided a weak signal of past range fragmentation blurred by putative subsequent extensive secondary contacts. In this study, we analyzed geographical patterns of genetic variation at seven microsatellite loci among 22 populations of lake cisco located along the axis of an area covered by proglacial lakes 12,000–8000 years ago in North America. The results clearly confirmed the existence of two genetically distinct races characterized by different sets of microsatellite alleles whose frequencies varied clinally across some 3000 km. Equilibrium and nonequilibrium analyses of isolation by distance revealed historical signal of gene flow resulting from the nearly complete admixture of these races following neutral secondary contacts in their historical habitat and indicated that the colonization process occurred by a stepwise expansion of an eastern (Atlantic) race into a previously established Mississippian race. This historical signal of equilibrium contrasted with the current migration-drift disequilibrium within major extant watersheds and was apparently maintained by high effective population sizes and low migration regimes.
Corresponding Editor: T. Smith